Friday, November 06, 2009

Audioengine S8 Subwoofer review

Audioengine S8 Subwoofer review

Subwoofers have trade offs. Small Subwoofers especially. With no limitations on size, and no limitations on driver quality or cabinet price you can make products that provide extraordinary low frequency performance at low distortion and high sound pressure levels (SPL's). Tweak it down price wise and size wise and you still have a formula that makes sense - price per performance vs cost. Taking it a step further, where size becomes the paramount factor, things become far trickier. You start pushing the laws of physics hard upon their boundaries then. The slightest improvements are incredibly hard to acquire. Add price into that? Why not add anti-gravity, or something equally absurd? Squashing the laws of physics, somehow, is not possible, but something speaker designers (an under appreciated group) are always expected to achieve.
Shrink it, and they will buy it? Due to "WAF" (wife acceptance factor) making these boxes smaller, or more attractive makes them easier to fit into the living room. With computer based setups, making them smaller also makes them easier to fit into the computer based setups area.

Subwoofer Setup
The key with any subwoofer is finding out how to make it work in your situation. Where is your main speakers 3-6dB down point and at what type of slope? Ported speakers tend to drop off drastically, while acoustic suspension speakers tend to slope down more smoothly, if designed properly. While you can't select the slopes of the crossovers on most subs, you should still take the main speakers slope and subs capabilities into consideration when choosing the crossover point for maximum smoothness in frequency response. If you're using it in a home theater setup with a receiver, what kind of bass management do you have available on the receiver or processor? This can help you out by enhancing the sub woofers crossover settings. How is it placed in the room? Audioholics has a very nice article on that.

So what is the S8 and how does it fit in?
The S8 is a small, nice looking 8" Sub with a port. The speaker fires down with a front mounted flared port. Build quality is excellent. It has a 250 watt class AB amp with adjustable crossover from 50-130Hz. It weighs 30 pounds and looks very nice in a utilitarian sort of way, with very nicely beveled edges and a nice, opaque black finish. It has a very nice level of connectivity options at its price point with 3.5mm and RCA L/R inputs, RCA L/R full range outputs. Audioengine also makes a wireless Audio extender, which works with this, or Stereo L/R main speakers to give you an outstanding sounding wireless connection option.

Testing/Listening
I find the sub does indeed have usable output down to 27Hz, as specified, and it does have usable 30Hz output in a small room. That's not too shabby for a relatively inexpensive 8" sub! There seems to be a bit of a peak in the 50Hz region, and a slow slope down to 30Hz, then a quick droppoff. Ported Subs almost always have a peak at speaker resonance and then a slow dropoff until the port resonance kicks in, so it is pretty normal, if not the ideal.
I used the Sub with some unusual choices for my computer setup, which I use for near field monitor listening as well as full room listening. I used them exclusively in 2.1 setups using a Denon 3805, and switched between Reference 3A Dulcets and NHT Classic 2's. This is probably not the typical setup for this sub. I'd guess it would most often be used with Audioengines excellently reviewed powered speakers and as a replacement or add-on to HTIB (home theater in a box), inexpensive surround systems, and computer speakers. The Sub performed quite well with both sets of speakers once I found the ideal crossover frequency for the sub with the speakers, and a good sounding placement. I had to set the crossover rather low (much lower than with most HTIB or computer speakers, 50-60Hz) with the speakers I used since they have pretty good low frequency extension. While I can't say the sub was in the same league as my SVS sub I use in my main system, I'd definately say they improved both setups substantially making them into real full range systems with clean, tight, undistorted bass. They made my Reference 3A Dulcets, which are wonderful high end mini monitors sound like much larger and even more expensive speakers. I had to keep the crossover very low to preserve the Dulcets perceived "quickness", but once I settled on crossover and placement the overall sound was admirably tight and fast. With the NHT 2 classics, it was a bit more tricky, since they are a bit boomy in the same range as the S8 seems to get a bit peaky. Setting the sub crossover at 50Hz worked pretty well to alleviate the issue to an extent, but placement of both the mains and sub, a sub equalizer, or receivers with automatic room adjustments are your only hope in this type of scenario for best results.

Conclusion
This sub will do a great job upgrading just about any HTIB or computer speaker system and is probably a perfect match for the Audioengine Speakers. The S8 provides you with quality bass down to 30Hz in a reasonably small room or computer area. For higher end setups in small rooms, it does a very nice job, with proper placement and proper setup. It's not perfect, it should be matched with speakers that have little response at 50HZ and lower. Most small speakers of the surround sound variety drop off at 80-130Hz, and it's excellent for those. It's not exactly cheap at $350, but all but the highest priced subs have their bumps and dips and other trade offs. This one has some trade offs as well, but it certainly has its high points. Small size and good looks and extremely good connection options make it a winner with the right partners.

Specifications:
Frequency response:27Hz - 180Hz (+/-1.5dB)
Dimensions (HxWxD):11.25” x 11.25” x 11.25”
Power Output:250W peak power total (125W RMS), AES
Amplifier type:Dual Class AB monolithic
Inputs:1/8" (3.5mm) stereo mini-jack and RCA L/R
Outputs:RCA L/R, full-range
Crossover Frequency:50Hz - 130Hz
Weight:13.6kg (30lbs)

Some of the music listened to:
Trilok Gurtu & Robert Miles - Miles Gurtu
Patricia Barber - Cafe Blue
Beatles - Sgt. peppers Lonely hearts Club Band
Miles Davis - Kind of Blue
King Crimson - The Compact King Crimson
Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero
Grover Washington Jr. - Greatest Performances
Coldplay - Viva La Vida
Highperspice - Weapon of Choice
Be Bop Deluxe - Axe Victim
Skip Heller - Homegoing
and more Classical, Jazz, Rock and R&B.

random author thoughts:
Cool? It will fit in a small space under your workstation and pump out bass that will make your pants move. Where is any big subwoofer who can do that?

While audibly superior to have the sub centered underneath between speakers, the pants fluttering effect is eventually annoying with the front fired port. As this is primarily designed to be a computer subwoofer, it should be rear ported?

A nice bedroom or computer sub, or low power system sub. Not for big rooms and high levels.


Note:
The Audioengine S8 Subwoofer sample was provided to us for review and returned after the review. We sell Audioengine products. The author does feel the review is a fair and impartial review of the product.

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